There is no record of a performance during Shakespeare's lifetime, although due to its inclusion in Francis Meres' Palladis Tamia, we know the play had definitely been performed by 1598. The earliest known performance was at Drury Lane in 1762. However, this production was of a version of the play rewritten by Benjamin Victor. The earliest known performance of the straight Shakespearean text was at Covent Garden in 1784, advertised as "Shaxespeare's with alterations." Although the play was supposed to run for several weeks, it closed after the first night.
From the middle of the eighteenth century, even if staging Shakespeare's original (as opposed to Victor's rewrite) it was common to cut the lines in the final scene where Valentine seems to offer Silvia to Proteus. This practice prevailed until William Macready reintroduced the lines in 1841 in a production at Drury Lane, although they were still being removed as late as 1952, in Denis Carey's production at the Bristol Old Vic. Notable nineteenth century performances include Charles Kean's 1848 production at the Haymarket Theatre, Samuel Phelps' 1857 production at Sadler's Wells Theatre and William Poel's 1892 and 1896 productions.
During the twentieth century, the play has been produced sporadically in the English-speaking world, although it has proved more popular in Europe. Indeed, there have been only a few significant English speaking productions. Little is known, for example, about Harley Granville-Barker's 1904 production at the Court Theatre, F.R. Benson's 1910 production at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Robert Atkins' 1923 production at the Apollo Theatre, or Ben Iden Payne's 1938 production at Stratford-upon-Avon. The earliest production about which we have significant information is Michael Langham's 1957 production at The Old Vic, starring Richard Gale as Valentine, Keith Michell as Proteus, Barbara Jefford as Julia and Ingrid Hafner as Silvia. In this production, set in late nineteenth century Italy and grounded very much in high Romanticism, Proteus threatens to kill himself with a pistol at the end of the play, prompting Valentine's hasty offer of Silvia.
Perhaps the most notable 20th century production was Peter Hall's 1960 production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Set in a late medieval milieu, the play starred Denholm Elliott as Valentine, Derek Godfrey as Proteus, Susan Maryott as Silvia, Frances Cuka as Julia, and featured a much lauded performance by Patrick Wymark as Launce. Hall had only recently been appointed as Artistic Director of the RSC, and, somewhat unexpectedly, he chose Two Gentlemen as his inaugural production, billed as the opening show in a re-examination of the development of Shakespearean comedy.
Ten years later, in 1970, Robin Phillips' RSC production starred Peter Egan as Valentine, Ian Richardson as Proteus, Helen Mirren as Julia, Estelle Kohler as Silvia, and Patrick Stewart as Launce. This production concentrated on the issues of friendship and treachery, and set the play in a decadent world of social elitism. Valentine and Proteus were presented as aristocratic students, the Duke was a Don, and Eglamour an old scout master. On the other hand, the poverty-stricken outlaws were dressed in animal skins.
The RSC again staged the play at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1981, as a double bill with Titus Andronicus, with both plays heavily edited. Directed by John Barton, the production starred Peter Chelsom as Valentine, Peter Land as Proteus, Julia Swift as Julia and Diana Hardcastle as Silvia. This production saw the actors not involved in the current on-stage scene sit at the front of the stage and watch the performance. Leon Rubin directed a performance at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 1984, where the actors were dressed in modern clothes and contemporary pop music was featured within the play (for example, the outlaws are portrayed as an anarchic rock group).
A 1991 RSC production at the Swan Theatre saw director David Thacker use an on-stage band for the duration of the play, playing music from the 1930s, such as Cole Porter and George Gershwin. Thacker's production featured Richard Bonneville as Valentine, Barry Lynch as Proteus, Clare Holman as Julia and Saskia Reeves as Silvia. In 1992, Thacker's production moved to the Barbican Centre, and in 1993 went on regional tour. In 1996, Jack Shepherd directed a modern dress version at the Royal National Theatre as part of Shakespeare's Globe's "Prologue Season". The production starred Lenny James as Valentine, Mark Rylance as Proteus, Stephanie Roth Haberle as Julia and Anastasia Hille as Silvia. Another RSC production took place at the Swan in 1998, under the direction of Edward Hall, and starring Tom Goodman-Hill as Valentine, Dominic Rowan as Proteus, Lesley Vickerage as Julia and Poppy Miller as Silvia. This production set the play in a grimy unnamed contemporary city where material obsession was all-encompassing.
In 2004, Fiona Buffini directed a touring production for the RSC. Premiering at the Swan, the production starred Alex Avery as Valentine, Laurence Mitchell as Proteus, Vanessa Ackerman as Julia and Rachel Pickup as Silvia. Buffini set the play in a swinging 1930s milieu, and featuring numerous dance numbers. Additionally, London and New York replaced Verona and Milan; initially, Valentine and Proteus are shown as living in the English countryside, in a rural paradise devoid of any real vitality, the sons of wealthy families who have retired from the city. When Valentine leaves, he heads to New York to pursue the American Dream and falls in love with Silvia, the famous actress daughter of a powerful media magnate. Another change to the play was that the roles of the outlaws (represented here as a group of paparazzi) were increased considerably. Scenes added to the play show them arriving in New York and going about their daily business, although none of the new scenes featured any dialogue. Another performance worth noting occurred at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford in 2006. A non-professional acting company from Brazil, named Nós do Morro, in collaboration with a Gallery 37 group from Birmingham, gave a single performance of the play during the RSC's presentation of the Complete Works, directed by Guti Fraga. The production was spoken in Portuguese, with the original English text projected as surtitles onto the back of the stage. It also featured two 17-year-olds in the roles of Valentine and Proteus (usually, actors in their 20s are cast), and Crab was played not by a dog, but by a human actor in a dog costume. In 2009, Joe Dowling directed the play at the Guthrie Theater, starring Sam Bardwell as Valentine, Jonas Goslow as Proteus, Sun Mee Chomet as Julia and Valeri Mudek as Silvia. Staged as a 1950s live television production, large black-and-white monitors were set on either side of the stage, with cameras feeding the action to them. Additionally, period advertisements appeared both before the show and during the intermission. The actors spoke the original dialogue, but wore 1950s clothing. Rock and roll music and dance sequences were occasionally mixed with the action.
In 2011, Laura Cole directed a production at the Shakespeare Tavern. Presented as an "in repertory" production, alongside The Taming of the Shrew and The Comedy of Errors, it starred Kenneth Wigley as Valentine, Jonathan Horne as Proteus, Amee Vyas as Julia and Kati Grace Morton as Silvia. In 2012, P.J. Paparelli directed a Shakespeare Theatre Company production at the Lansburgh Theatre, starring Andrew Veenstra as Valentine, Nick Dillenburg as Proteus, Natalie Mitchell as Silvia and Miriam Silverman as Julia. Set in the 1990s, and featuring a contemporary soundtrack, mobile phones and guns, the production downplayed the comedy, and instead presented the play as a semi-tragic coming-of-age story. Reviews were mixed, with most critics impressed with the attempts to do something new with the play, but not universally sure the new ideas worked. Also in 2012, a touring production was staged at various venues throughout the UK, including a performance at the Globe Theatre as part of the Globe to Globe Festival, under the name Vakomana Vaviri Ve Zimbabwe (The Two Gentlemen from Zimbabwe). Directed by Arne Pohlmeier, and spoken in Shona, the entire play was performed with a cast of two; Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyevu. In 2014, for the first time since Robin Phillips' 1970 production, the RSC performed the play in a full production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Directed by Simon Godwin, the production starred Michael Marcus as Valentine, Mark Arends as Proteus, Pearl Chanda as Julia and Sarah MacRae as Silvia. On 3 September, the play was broadcast live to cinemas around the world as part of the "Live from Stratford-upon-Avon" series. The production received generally positive reviews, with most critics happy to see it back on the RSC stage.